I always assumed horses come off the track in a neat package--broken, fit and ready to start a new career. But recently I have found myself, along with my friend Eric Stauffer, in the process of doing something in which I've had a limited amount of experience: breaking horses. Eric has had even less experience in the horse-breaking business than I have, so the two of us combined might fill one of Monty Roberts's boots.

The project started by rounding up the five Canadian sport horse 2-year-olds in a pen and moving them by stock trailer to a different farm. We assumed this would be a daunting task, as the horses were basically wild and hadn't been handled. To our surprise and delight, the curious animals wouldn't stay away from the trailer and almost trampled each other getting on.

Herding the horses into stalls also went easily, as long as we didn't mind a few of them pairing up in their new abodes. With the help of some grain, we convinced them that halters aren't the scariest things on earth.

Separating the horses and leading them into paddocks were different matters. Pretty soon we had several horses running loose, lead shanks dangling from halters, some in the paddocks, and some free to roam.

Thank goodness for sweet feed, for soon the horses could be coaxed into the barn. They realized people weren't all bad, and before we knew it, the horses were standing quietly to be groomed, and we carefully could slide a surcingle and bridle on them.

One at a time they learned to march to the round pen, walk, trot and canter by voice command. At this point the horses really were starting to relax around us; even teaching them to pick up their feet for cleaning wasn't all that difficult, as long as we didn't mind holding up a ton of horse weight for brief amounts of time. We also learned it takes two people to break horses, especially when they plant themselves firmly and won't move forward or backward.

One of the most interesting aspects of this breaking project has been the horses' behavior toward humans. All of these animals have had the exact same upbringing, and all of them act very differently. Some are amazingly trusting, while others are suspicious; some are quick learners and willing to please, while others insist they can circle only in one direction. We have learned to appreciate their individual talents and quirks, as they have learned to accept and try each new task we ask of them.

At this point we have succeeded in teaching them to long-line and can drive them around the farm fairly adequately. On occasion, they remember they are a lot stronger than we are and manage a short stint around the field with reins flapping behind them.

This week we hope to be on the horses' backs, though we definitely will be holding our breath the first time we swing a leg over. After we can ride the horses successfully around the fields, they will be turned out again and forgotten until next spring. These amazingly good-natured and friendly horses should be going across the country by next fall, in preparation for a life in the hunt field.

Questions, comments or suggestions? E-mail Julie Gomena at jagomena@crosslink.net